Adrenaline Junkies In A Boxed Winter Wonderland
Reviewed on PS4
Open-world games denote a sense of realism, an uncanny escapade of meandering through a seemingly living, breathing world. Non-playable characters populate these worlds and exist in them, acknowledging your actions in the world but ultimately continuing their digital, nonexistent lives; the world subsists with or without your tampering, creating the illusion that the world is alive. Ubisoft is notorious for its open-world games, developing projects that are not only open but overwhelmingly so — which, in certain instances, disregards the player’s time. Steep, an always online, open-world extreme winter sports game developed by Ubisoft, misses the mark on its path to an open-world game, but delivers the thrill of adrenaline whilst tearing down the slopes. Sometimes.
SSX (or Snowboard Supercross for the uninitiated), developed and published by EA’s studios, has been missing for the last four years. The extreme winter sports series made its last appearance back in February 2012 with SSX (2012). The game received glowing praise from critics, averaging an 80 on Metacritic. (81 on PS3 and 82 on Xbox 360, to be exact.) Ever since then, fans have been clamoring, begging for another entry in the SSX franchise. Steep scratches the incessant itch that SSX left in its wake, but comparing Ubisoft’s winter sports game to EA’s winter sports game is reductive and dishonest; there are some similarities, but Steep is ultimately its own kind of game, divergent from the wintry path EA left.
It can be assumed that Ubisoft is at the forefront of open-world games. Taking the open-world formula and shoehorning that into the snowy Alps, however, feels restrictive. There are no NPCs in the world, only other real players. The idea that you’re ripping the snow with other real players sounds tantalizing until you realize there aren’t enough players on the mountains. Though sparse on player count, the Alps itself is massive. This massive world, unfortunately, is empty, eliciting an ardent loneliness; perhaps that’s part of the aesthetic, part of the allure, but to call it an extreme winter sports game defeats the purpose, as the connotation of the word “sports” begs the impression of an innumerable amount of players. Furthermore, when snowboarding down the mountains, a message will inevitably pop up stating you’re reaching the end of the map; you can see the ends of the world when you pull the map all the way out. This, in turn, gives Steep the less identifiable and less attractive word of “sandbox” than “open-world.”
The narrator is as dude-bro as they come.
Because Steep is a winter sports game, you can expect a variety of, well, winter sports. Snowboarding, skiing, paragliding, and wingsuiting all make an appearance, though some are far more compelling and satisfying than others. Snowboarding and skiing share the same courses and largely play the same, so it comes down to a stylistic choice. I’ve been skateboarding since I was eight years old and my brother used to snowboard for Volcom, so my choice was easy: snowboarding. It’s not as complicated as, say, HB Studio’s Mark McMorris Infinite Air. (Much like Need For Speed is the arcade to Gran Turismo’s realism — if we want to simplify games for a brief moment — Steep is the arcade to Infinite Air’s realism.) Flipping and performing tricks is enthralling as you watch yourself cut through the air in what can be described as simply a Red Bull commercial. Lamentably, the other sports aren’t as engrossing as snowboarding.
The weakest of the three winter sports is by far paragliding, with wingsuiting following in close second. Slow, clunky, and vapid as all hell, paragliding sees you in a seated position as you amble sluggishly in the air. This would be a perfect palette cleanser to the expediency the other sports elicit, but Ubisoft — for some ungodly and rather puzzling reason — has you participating in races in this tortoise-like sport. So, you’re gliding at a snail’s pace, racing through hoops in a vain attempt at securing the gold medal, which makes no sense as paragliding is too slow to be exhilarating enough to be a race. (Let’s see who can race the slowest? See, that doesn’t make sense nor does it even sound right.)
Fitting the arcade-y mold, the mountains talk. Ethereal and ceremonial, each slope has its own persona, which changes the way you ride around the snow. Regrettably, these mountains do nothing for the overall narrative: become the best rider. The narrative is one dimensional, which is at odds with the personalities of the mountains. Idiosyncratic and aberrant, the mountains encapsulate the relaxation, the adrenaline, the perfection of tearing up the slope. Conversely, the narrator is as dude-bro as they come, bellowing verbal high fives and “You hear that?! They love you!” amidst empty mountains and stadiums. This narrator seems like a necessary evil to drum up hype to “pull off insane tricks” around the mountains, suggesting Ubisoft’s faithlessness in the player to hype themselves up as they pull off insane tricks. These conflicting components grow exhausting and, after a while, annoying.
As you ascend to the peaks of either of the mountains, you realize Steep is a lonely experience. For as concerned with online multiplayer as Ubisoft is and “a persistent Internet connection required.” Mantra the studio perennially demands, snowboarding by yourself wouldn’t hinder the enjoyment of Steep. Because Ubisoft wants everyone to play together at all times, the expectation of riding down slopes together is ultimately underwhelming. Steep, for all of its exclamations to be the best rider, is really just a glorified GoPro advertisement, and you’re merely a pawn in this corporate handshake.
If you enjoyed this review be sure to check out Fireside Review | Steep where Jeremy discusses his opinions of Steep, if he would like to see a sequel, and explains why he things there are a lack of extreme sports games releasing of late.